Beijing prepares for driverless robotaxes. The Chinese capital has given auto startup Pony.ai and Chinese internet giant Baidu permission to offer autonomous vehicle services to the public, both companies announced today.
Both studies will start on a small scale, CNBC reported. Baidu’s initial fleet will consist of 10 cars, and Pony.ai will launch with four cars. Both companies plan to expand their operations in the city in the future.
The Beijing government requires each driverless vehicle to have a staff member to make sure things run smoothly. However, it is not mandatory for these personnel to be in the driver’s seat. Both firms were already testing self-driving taxis in Beijing and other major cities in China, but they needed to have safety drivers behind the wheel.
The permits could be interpreted as a big step forward for Beijing’s driverless taxi industry, which has set a target for 70 percent of new cars sold by 2030 to have at least Level 2 self-driving technology.
The fact that driverless car rides are free, at least for now, will be an added advantage for Beijing residents. Companies are still waiting for government approval to charge for the service provided. Until this approval is granted, potential passengers will be able to travel via Pony.ai’s PonyPilot+ app or Baidu’s Apollo Go app. However, these trips are limited to an area of 60 square kilometers in Beijing’s Yizhuang district for now. Additionally, passengers will be asked to choose from a range of public pickup and drop-off locations, including subway stations, parks and stadiums.
Pony.ai encountered a number of difficulties while testing its self-driving technology in the US. California suspended the Chinese company’s testing permit last year after a reported crash due to a glitch in Pony.ai’s AV software. No people were harmed in the accident, which did not involve any other vehicle.